32 thoughts on “The threatened ecology of Puerto Rico: What is to be done?

  1. Puerto Rican Ecology

    Thanks for putting this theme on to the website. I have been working on this for the last eight years with Neftali Garcia from Servicios Cientificos y Technicos in Puerto Rico. I offer this to start the discussion: The key environmental policy areas break down like this: Industrial Contamination,Military Contamination, Natural Resource Destruction and the threat to public health via the media of air, soil and water contamination.

    There is also the interjurisdictional questions that so clearly expose our colonial status: 1) The juridisdiction of the US Environmental Protection Agency, The jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Government and the jurisdiction of the Military. All of this must be figured within the context of the current economic structure for the siting of US corporate facilities and presence of the military.

    I look for to this discussion and the networking that is so clearly needed.

  2. I would like to know more specifics
    I would like to get more information about the areas that have been affected and which companies or government agencies were involved. How much damage? Is it reversible? How much would it cost to clean up?

    What recourse do we have? What is being done? And what group or groups can I join so that I can help out?

  3. A first step
    Your question is “What is to be done?”

    You have taken a positive step:

    Address the issue and provide this forum.

    The threat to the ecology is magnified in an island that has a population that is high density.

    The majority of world population does not live in an island and many view “moving somewhere else” as the solution when ecological conditions pose a threat to their health.

    Those of us who were born in Puerto Rico know that the island is small, and once the ecology is destroyed, “moving somewhere else” would translate into “moving into the ocean”.(Can’t turn into fish, therefore that is not an option.) In other words Puerto Rico is Puerto Rico only in Puerto Rico.

    In order to succeed in creating a culture in Puerto Rico that will be more

    sensitive to the preservation of natural resources, those entities that may be having an impact on the ecology but which are not original of Puerto Rico, will have to understand that once an island is destroyed a whole world has been destroyed.

  4. RE: RE: Puerto Rican Ecology: Some background.
    In 1993 a group of New York Puerto Rican environmental activist hosted a delegation of island Puerto Rican activist to discuss our common problems and for thdevelopment of a public policy advocacy strategy on environmental justice for our communites here and on the island. This effort was hosted by the Institute for Puerto Rican Policy. The networking effort sougt to address the lack of environmental law enforcement by the EPA on the island initially. Our advocacy efforts have helped increase the staff of the Carribean Office of EPA from about 8 staff members in 1993 to about 25 to day.There have been significant albeit not enough environmental enforcement efforts on the island over the past eight years. All desicions on federal environmental policy were directed form New York, to day most of the federal environmental policy is now directed from the island based office in consultation with the New York EPA Region 2 home office. However when it come to the U.S. military the civilian agency’s hands are largely tied.The Navy has it own environmental compliance office which negociates with the EPA. This is a real problem as it relates to environmental policy enforcement nad remediation actions.

    This was only a small step toward addressing the mountain of environmental problems the island is facing, but it showed us that with a very targeted strategy we could affect public policy decisions. Realizing the depth of activism and committment here and on the island EPA gave myself and Neftali seats at the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, where we worke to pass a resolution on the need to expedite the clean up of the 10 most dangerous superfund sites on the island. This is a work in progress as these sites were subject to industrial and military contamination which will take decades to clean up.

    The networking effort is still underway it is a volunteer effort by a few very dedicated people. Neftali Garcia is our point person on the island,I am the point person here. I hope this was usful to those that want to help us expand our networking efforts.

  5. RE: RE: RE: Puerto Rican Ecology: Some background.
    Extremely important and interesting topic. Are there are written works on this matter?

  6. Development; does it really help!?!
    One of the things I saw on the island was that people were so attached to this Muñoz idea of development that they just took it for granted that more development is better. Therefore, these technocrats just destroy the island. I think a new arguement needs to be planted in the minds of the people of this jardin florida- how much more development can it take?!?

  7. Colombian anthropologist Andres Escobar.
    The Caleño anthropologist Andres Escobar specializes in talking about the pitfalls of (so-called) development. He has so many good works. The first time I read him it struck me that his arguements could be useful to the case of Puerto Rico.

    For an introduction, see a short essay of his at http://www.unesco.org/issj/rics154/escobarspa.html

  8. RE: Development; does it really help!?!
    It’s not that development is bad. It’s the kind of development. The kind that has been going on since the fifties in Puerto Rico and the States does not work in either country. Although because Puerto Rico is small and self-contained the destruction and impact of this sort of FHA-funded-one-family-one-house-and-garage is more devastating. Also, given Puerto Rico’s density, this kind of suburban sprawling growth is inappropriate. Basically, Puerto Rico has been turned into a big suburb. Just as this type of building has failed in the U.S., it has failed in Puerto Rico. The early form of planning around a plaza was more appropriate and effective in establishing and supporting a civic life. The mall or the shopping center, with a parking space as central, destroys this sense of civic life and alienates people from one another. We all become discreet shoppers. And our identity hangs on what we buy, including what we bought to drive there!

    Puerto Rico needs direct planning in order maintain the integrity of the towns and countryside–as well as establishing a continuity with its earlier architecture which is quite beautiful and practical. Planned, humanistic, ecological-sound development is what is needed. And we have all the brains to get this done.

  9. what about Vieques and other matters
    What about Vieques and the high rate of cancer? How will this be resolved now that the Navy has removed the protesters? They’ve got to clean up that whole area or pay a great deal to have it cleaned up–not just cosmetic work. Also there should be some sort of independent environmental body to assess the progress and completion of the clean-up. Bombing and military practices there should be halted immediately, given this health-threatening situation.

    What about the man-made drought that continuously plagues Puerto Rico? The result of overdevelopment, uneven development, wanton development–unplanned development. Why isn’t this being discussed.

    What about our people living in the asthma belt in New York City? The poor health of Puerto Ricans and other Latinos stateside that is directly attributable to the environment. I’m not seeing anything coming up about this.

    There is a virtual blackout on Puerto Rican issues stateside and this is really a problem in terms of mobilizing people. Where is our leadership in any of this?

  10. RE: RE: RE: Puerto Rican Ecology: Some background.
    How can we get in touch with you and your organization?

  11. RE: RE: RE: RE: Puerto Rican Ecology: Some background.
    Just E-mail me:rs242@Cornell, I am based in NYC, I am in the processs of developing a programatic agenda with the PRLDEF-Institute for Puerto Rican Policy to further our advocacy efforts since these two organizations have now mearged. Get in touch.

  12. RE: what about Vieques and other matters
    Is there a “Green” site where we can stay abreast of PR environmental issues.

  13. Good question and I’d like some answers here
    This is really a good question. There are green sites and if they don’t include discussions of Puerto Rico’s environmental issues, including Vieques, we should make a point of posting information about these and making Puerto Rico part of an international discourse. Such as Ruben Berrios has attempted to do and also Carlos Zenon. But I woulad like to see postings on the specifics. Perhaps Ricardo can give us the info here.

  14. EPA’s tighter restrictions for diesel fuel
    There was an article in the NYTimes about the Environmental Protection Agency extending stricter guidelines on fuel emissions from diesel fuel which of course caused an uproar among truckers and oilers. The article mentioned that the EPA was prompted by the growth of asthma and cancer among those exposed to the exhaust from vehicles using diesel. This directly applies to so many of our communities that exist along New York’s asthma belt.

  15. RE: EPA
    The Nation magazine has a GREAT story on its website called, “The Secret History of Lead.” It’s a long story, but an excellent one which gives the sordid story of the collaboration between the car and oil/gas companies as well as the US Public Health System, when it came to leaded gasoline. Though the US doesnt use leaded gas anymore, (a) the stuff is still in the soil and (b) that stuff is drifting back via wind currents, since leaded gas is sold in “third world” countries. Guess who’s selling it to them?

    Broadly speaking, this is one of the great chemical experimentation against the public since WWII–after all, does plastic grow on trees? Is it any wonder the world is seeing disturbing trends when it comes to declining sperm counts, or the fact that all humans on the planes have PCBs in their body fat? A complete rethinking of the way we produce products and spend our money is in order. Fundamentally, however, a rethinking of capitalism is in order, for these are all systems of a sick, undemocratic system (a great book is called, Toxic Deception)

  16. RE: From “Z” magazine.
    YES, YES, YES. Z Magazine is perhaps the BEST webpage from the left on the Internet today. Highly recommended–a subsection is called the Chomsky Archive. Those of you reading this who dont know who Noam Chomsky is, (a) shame on you and (b) read the man’s political works. He doesnt have much to say on PR itself, but his political analyses are useful tools for analyzing the class warfare we face on a constant level.

  17. RE: what about Vieques and other matters
    “Leadership” is a concept that scares me. WE should be doing the work and networking; leadership should come from the ranks, thus remaining accountable to the group. We seem to be stuck with the notion that leaders lead, and we follow. Yet, who decided these folks are our leaders? Do we really have a say with the selection of any of our leaders? Why put up with it? After all, all the social welfare programs we now have were the result of collective mass action!

  18. RE: RE: what about Vieques and other matters
    There are quite a few:
    Greenpeace (or, Green Party)
    Friernds of the Earth
    Union of Concerned Scientists
    Earthlaw (or, try EarthJustice)
    Rachel’s Environment Weekly
    These are all available on the Web. Try those and see what happens. Peace.

  19. RE: RE: what about Vieques and other matters
    There are quite a few:
    Greenpeace (or, Green Party)
    Friernds of the Earth
    Union of Concerned Scientists
    Earthlaw (or, try EarthJustice)
    Rachel’s Environment Weekly
    These are all available on the Web. Try those and see what happens. Peace.
    Now, a caveat: these do not specifically look at PR, but they are tools to understand environmental issues. If there are any PR green sites, someone please provide the address.

  20. RE: Development; does it really help!?!
    Good point. True everywher one looks at deforestation, dams, export agriculture. However, as long as there’s only one game in town–globalization–where the operative word is profits, not people, this will continue. Only when the last fish has been caught and the last tree cut down, will we realize that we cannot eat money.” Imagine our kids or grandkids asking us, “What did tigers look like?”

  21. RE: Colombian anthropologist Andres Escobar.
    Also, Z Magazine has many links to these issues.

  22. RE: RE: Development; does it really help!?!
    Excellent point. We have the brains, but not the power or money. As such, developers will “restore” a wildlife habitat (ever seen the ads in magazines by Chevron or Phillips Petroleum or Ford Car Co. sponsoring Time magazine’s EarthDay 2000 issue? Disgusting corporate greenwashing)and then proceed to build a shopping mall.
    In this country, there is an impending crisis–we are losing valuable farmland to developments such as these. Of course, the hidden hand of racism (gotta get away from those people in the inner city)plays a large part, yet it’s unacknowledged.

  23. RE: RE: EPA
    I remember an article in the Nation long ago, at least ten years ago called “Circle of Poison” — or something to this effect. It covered insecticides used for crops that were banned in the U.S. but were also (like lead gas) sold to Third World countries. We buy fruits, vegetables and flowers from these countries who use insecticides banned in the U.S. So that we or I should really say the American manufacturers of these insecticides are poisoning the American population, not to mention the people who have to pick the crops and the local people whose soil is becoming so toxic that doubtless the insecticides have penetrated their water tables and entered the general drinking water, etc. etc. etc.

    Hey good to hear from you Padilla!

  24. PR needs High Speed Rail Development too
    This email is being circulated to draw attention to this new railroad system and of course bring the U.S. up to date. Puerto Rico should really be considering this too, although, perhaps on a sectional basis–slowly extending to the entire island for economic reasons. But ultimately the ecological considerations and longterm economic gains are undeniable. Check this out and don’t you agree. Also, there is in the Palique article sampled on this site a very interesting description of Puerto Rico’s old railroad system.

    Note: This letter was suggested by participant Dan Johnson-Weinberger and written by Pat Murphy. It goes to President, Vice President, and all of Congress. Further information at Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s special web site:


    To: President Clinton:

    Subject: We Need High Speed Rail Development

    Dear President Clinton:

    It is time for the United States to devote serious effort to develop a modern program of high-speed rail.

    Recognizing this fact, the Senate now is considering S. 1900, The High-Speed Rail Investment Act. This is a bipartisan

    proposal to meet the transportation challenges of the 21st Century.

    It would expend relatively modest funds, $782 million over a period of five years, to attract $10 billion in private funds to plan and develop high-speed links to connect urban communities in selected, densely populated parts of the United States.

    High speed rail would relieve highway congestion, reduce air pollution, facilitate the rapid movement of people, and promote commerce and cooperation. All logic points to it as the next stage in American transportation development.

    President Clinton, please offer vigorous leadership in support of S. 1900 and high-speed transit development.


  25. RE: RE: RE: EPA
    Well, I figure I couldn’t be missed unless I left for awhile!! 🙂
    Good point–the entering in to this country of crops that have no businesss coming in is one of the reasons these “free” trade agreements are seeing more and more protests.
    I also remember an article I have somewhere that stated how it was PR women who were the early guinea pigs on whom the birth control pill was tested. Wish I could find it, though.

  26. Talking about ecology is like talking about gays
    It seems that this topic is not very popular–unfortunately. People are either ignorant or the subject or afraid. I think with the subject of ecology, they are basically ignorant and don’t see the environment as a pressing political issue–although its polluting could kill them or make them ill. As with the subject of gays, people are either ignorant or afraid to discuss.

  27. RE: RE: what about Vieques and other matters
    Wherever a leader emerges, he or she is always accountable to those he or she leads. I believe a leader can come from either the rank and file or “those above.” There are advantages and disadvantages attached to both. What is most critical is the relationship between the leader and the follower. It must be dynamic and permeable.

  28. RE: Talking about ecology is like talking about gays
    Hear Hear. Of course, they would all know about Jennifer Lopez’ slinky dress. I agree with your post; it seems we’d rather spend time watching TV (that great wasteland) and not reading up on this vitally important topic, even though there is plenty of info out there–just the UN Environmental Program is a treasure trove.

  29. RE: RE: RE: what about Vieques and other matters
    Unfortunately, history doesn’t show us examples of many leaders truly accountable to the group or even selected by a group. Historians always talk about how leaders “emerged” as if it were a miraculous process.

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